Covid exacerbated social isolation, a serious problem even before pandemic
Psychologists in Western countries say social isolation and loneliness were prevalent prior to COVID-19, and now the pandemic is exacerbating an already serious problem.
A Harvard University study found more than a third of all Americans experienced severe loneliness during the pandemic. Of these respondents, 61% were 18 to 25 years old.
People living in Western countries that are heavily individualistic tend to be much lonelier.
However, feeling lonely and being alone is not the same. Many people feel lonely even if they are not physically isolated; and many people who are physically isolated do not feel lonely.
Loneliness: a threat to health and well-being
Attorney Christian Kelso was in the front office at his home in Dallas when his wife rushed in with a note in her hand. She’d found it on their front lawn.
“Clearly, it’s a suicide note,” Kelso said as he held up the handwritten letter.
Kelso posted the note on social media in hopes of finding the person who wrote it. Hundreds of people shared and responded.
Loneliness can also cause physical health problems like heart disease or stroke.
“I would imagine that we’re going to be seeing a variety of increases in multiple chronic kinds of illnesses,” said Dr. Julianne Holt Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. She’s been studying the long-term health effects of loneliness for two decades.
In a pre-pandemic study, Holt Lunstad looked at data from more than 3 million people worldwide and found that those who were lonely had at 26% higher risk of premature death. Even more startling, Holt Lunstad said, is studies show younger adults are most affected.
“You hear people talk about being lonely in a crowd or at a gathering,” Holt Lunstad explained. “It's really important for us not to make assumptions about people because it really can affect anyone.”
Mental health experts say a strong network of support is key to helping people struggling with loneliness, especially after the loss of a loved one.